Mazda Europe names Kevin Rice is new design boss

Mazda has promoted Kevin Rice, who rejoined the automaker from BMW last year, to lead its European design operations.

Currently Rice is Mazda Europe’s creative director. He will start his new job Sept. 1 and will succeed Peter Birtwhistle, who is retiring after a 26-year career at the automaker.

“We are fortunate to have a successor [for Birtwhistle] of such great talent. Kevin will continue Peter’s work, giving Mazda the necessary continuity while at the same time representing a new generation of designers,” Jeff Guyton, Mazda Europe CEO, said in a statement.

Rice takes charge of Mazda Europe’s design team at a time when the brand is enjoying a resurgence following the launch of new products including the CX5 SUV, Mazda3 compact and midsize Mazda6, all of which use the brand’s new Kodo design language.

The brand will unveil its latest MX-5/Miata smalls sports car on Sept. 3 during simultaneous global events in Japan, Spain and the United States.

Mazda’s vehicle sales rose 23 percent to 92,430 in the first half in the EU and EFTA markets, according to industry association ACEA.

Rice, 50, rejoined Mazda in October 2013 after 13 years with BMW where he was responsible for the styling of models including the 1 series and 4 series. Rice was senior designer at Mazda Europe from 1995 to 2000, contributing to the look of the RX-8 roadster and the Neospace concept car.

A British national, Rice studied transportation design in the UK before beginning his career at Opel in Germany in 1986. In 1988, he joined Italdesign Giugiaro in Italy, where he stayed for three years before a period spent freelancing for automakers including Ford and Saab.